Let's start by clearly stating the most important reason to squat. The squat is the number one overall human development exercise that anyone can perform. Mastery of the squats with weight (resisted) as well as body weight variations is not only fundamental, but it's foundational for any person looking to develop the best version of themselves. It doesn't matter if you're an elite veteran athlete, a young athlete that's just getting started, a weekend warrior, or a stay at home parent looking to improve general fitness the squat is a movement that you must master.
Let me share a few MAJOR BENEFITS you can expect. First, squatting taxes or challenges the entire system , which forces our bodies to adapt and become better, no
matter our goal. Squats also cause our bones, particularly our spinal column and bones of the lower body to become more dense which reduces the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis throughout vast age ranges. Squatting also increases our healthy hormone production and our blood volume which leads to a stronger healthier human when done correctly. It develops the postural muscles in the neck, mid back and low back while developing several major muscle groups to further mitigate the risk of injury for everyone.
Here's what I mean. Squats makes you better at bench press without ever touching a bench press. That's reason enough to squat, but we haven't even gotten to the good part yet. They're also the best global developer for the muscle groups in the hips, glutes, hamstrings, abductors, pelvic floor and spinal erectors any person can do.
Another key element for human development is the intermuscular coordination necessary to successfully execute the squat. The cocontractions that take place while squatting will do wonders for athletic development. Performing squats benefits non-athletes that do them correctly as well. Here's what that means, cocontractions are when some muscles are contracting while at the same time, others are relaxing. This mimics the movement in sports and in life. Every day we're squatting, whether it be to pick up something off the floor or to get up and down from a chair. So doing the squat and doing it effectively and efficiently is a really important component of day to day activity.
Lower Body Strength Is Key
In sports, the squat improves the athlete's ability to change directions better than any other exercise, in my opinion, because it requires an athlete's muscles to efficiently perform the eccentric phase (lengthening while contracting) , the concentric phase (Shortening while contracting), and the amortization phase (the bridge or transition between those movements). Those are three key components in every sport. Squatting builds the strength to start from the blocks in track and field or come off the line in football. Lower body strength is essential for any type of acceleration.
Most importantly, squatting benefits the athlete by training the ability to decelerate, plant and redirect, and then re-accelerate. Many sports injuries occur during the plant and redirect phase. Strength training should help an athlete protect their body while, at the same time, improving performance. This is, perhaps, the biggest benefits the squat provides.
There are countless variations like goblet squats, kettlebell squats, front squats, back squats, safety bar squat, Olympic squats, power lifting squats, the box squat, chain squat, banded squats, etc.... The List goes on and on. To perform squats correctly and safely, though, you need to master these fundamentals.
-Head and neck position
-Where your knees are tracking
I like to start from the ground up because the squat is developing our foundation. So, lets begin with the feet. Whether the athlete is in a narrow, mid, or wide base (depending on the variation) doesn't really make any difference. When performing any squat variation begin by grabbing ground with the toes, so that the mid-foot arches up and is really strong with the load being carried on the heels. Do this by contracting the musculature in the bottom of your feet to create that arch because we know arches are really strong. This creates a great foundation upon which to squat. Next we're going to rotate the heel into the ground or act as if we're corkscrewing the heels into the platform without the foot moving. The toes should be rotated slightly out. They may be rotated out more or less depending on the type of squat.
The next consideration is our knee position. Corkscrewing the heels helps drive the knees away from each other or outward and creates tension through the heel into the ground. We want the knees to track either directly over the heels or just outside of the heels when we do our squat. This is critical because it allows our hip to function properly and protects the lower back. If we keep our knees inside of our hip the hip is likely to impinge and limit our range of motion. Risking pain or injury or both. So, foot position, knee position, and loading the heels really important.
Before initiating the squat it's really important to establish a solid foundation. Next you're going to draw in a big breath and hold it. This is the valsalva maneuver and it's a great way to help develop explosiveness while learning to use breathing as your friend. You pull our shoulders back, and retract the shoulder blades, draw in that big breath and hold it to create a strong core. Done properly this to stabilize the spine.
To Initiate the movement you reach the hips back to the point where the glutes are behind the heels. I like my athletes to get the mid thigh behind the heels if they have the capability. When that happens, your upper body has to shift forward to act as a counterbalance. You shouldn't go this deep unless you can maintain great postural position. Meaning a good neutral spine, chin down, your neck packed with your shoulder blades together and youre core stabilized. It's not okay and potentially dangerous if you hunch over and have a back that looks like a camelback.
Start with great postural position, then reach the hips back. Once the hips have gotten well behind the heels you start sinking the hips down. This is the eccentric phase of the movement. The depth of the you reach depends on which exercise you chose. Our standard operating procedure here at Elite Athletes TV is to get the top of the thigh parallel to the ground. If we're teaching an Olympic squatter, they're going to get lower. In that case, their glutes would travel all the way to their heels in an effort to teach them how to get as low as possible to catch the bar for an Olympic lift. Most of the time, you're going to squat to the point where the front of your thighs are parallel with the floor. Once you get to that position you've reached the amortization or transition phase.
To begin the concentric phase you're going to come out of the bottom (also known as the hole). It's key employ consistent force in order to get the weight moving up while still maintaining great postural position. Picture driving up through the top of your head and driving your shoulders toward the sky. When you squat with my technique you'll engage several muscle groups including the leg muscles, glutes, and core. You'll load the glutes, particularly glute medius and minimus by driving the knees out, and then as you reach the hips back you're going to feel the glute maximus and the hamstring engage. The low back should be slightly in extension (slightly arched) while the shoulder blades are pulled back. You do this to create a big cocontraction of all the musculature in the posterior chain.
I focus on the posterior chain a lot, which is all of the muscles on the back of the body. Those muscles are essential for sports performance, also, they are vitally important for deceleration and injury prevention. So you want to make sure you're doing everything thing you can to develop them. As a side note training should prepare your body for the movements it needs in sport and also in life. One reason we love the squat is it challenges you to get stronger in those muscles that make you both safer and help you perform at a higher level.
If something didn't feel quite right, every single rep is an opportunity to do better. If you have a mirror in front of you, use it as a self coaching tool. Your our eyes should be looking in the mirror and seeing the front of the kneecaps. You want the kneecaps to drive apart or away from each other and see your hips reach back. You can also use the mirror to see when your front of your thigh gets parallel with the ground. That's a great way to give yourself personal accountability and feedback and to have a successful squat.
Try out these key elements and it'll help you be a much better squatter. We're going to bring you a lot of different elements on how to exercise properly. The Elite Athletes in our name is about you, not us.
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